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Homeland Security

18 April 2005

Colombian Terrorists Condemned for Using Gas Cylinder Bombs

Human rights group calls use of such weapons violation of international law

By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The use of gas cylinder bombs and other indiscriminate weapons by Colombia's largest guerrilla army shows its "flagrant disregard" for the lives of the Colombian civilian population, says Human Rights Watch, an independent nongovernmental group based in New York.

In an April 15 statement, Human Rights Watch said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had used those weapons in an attack the day before, which resulted in the killing of a 10-year-old boy and injuries to more than 20 other civilians.

Human Rights Watch said the FARC "must immediately cease these horrific attacks, which violate the most basic principles of the laws of war."

The U.S. State Department has designated the left-wing FARC as a terrorist organization, along with another Colombian left-wing group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the right-wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

Gas cylinder bombs are impossible to aim with accuracy and, as a consequence, frequently strike civilians and cause avoidable civilian casualties, said Human Rights Watch.

The group said international humanitarian law requires that combatants be distinguished from noncombatants and that military objectives be distinguished from protected property or places.  The FARC's use of gas cylinder bombs in civilian areas is thus a clear violation of international humanitarian law, said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

In addition to injuring and killing civilians, the FARC's April 14 attack on the towns of Toribío and Jambaló in Colombia's department (province) of Cauca also destroyed numerous homes and a church vestry.  Many members of the communities have been forced to leave because of the attacks, creating a serious risk that they may become permanently displaced, said Human Rights Watch.

As much as 90 percent of the population of Toribío and Jambaló belongs to the Nasa indigenous group, which has received national and international awards for its peace and development initiatives.  As with most indigenous groups in the country, the Nasa Indians have suffered from repeated attacks by armed terrorists in Colombia's long-running civil conflict, Human Rights Watch said.

That conflict has had a "devastating effect on indigenous populations, which are frequently caught in the middle of fighting between armed groups that wish to control their territory," said Vivanco.  He added that indiscriminate attacks like the bombings in Toribío not only kill civilians but also cause "immeasurable damage to the indigenous communities as a whole."

The State Department said in a recently released report that the FARC and ELN terrorists were responsible for a large percentage of civilian deaths attributable to the country's internal conflict.

Colombia's civil war has displaced over 2 million people in that nation since 1995, the State Department said in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices ‚Äď 2004, released February 28.

Terrorist groups in Colombia have caused mass displacements both intentionally and as by-products of military offensives, and have engaged in widespread recruitment of child soldiers, said the State Department.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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